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Natalie Portman shares harrowing “sexual terrorism” experience at age 13

Speaking out at the Women’s March in Los Angeles this weekend, the Oscar winner brings the issues of Time’s Up and #MeToo to the forefront.

Women's March Los Angeles 2018
Natalie Portman addresses the Women’s March in Los Angeles with fellow actresses Eva Longoria and Constance Wu.
Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images

Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman told the crowd at Saturday’s Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles that she experienced what she calls “sexual terrorism” as a 13-year-old after the release of the film The Professional.

Portman described her pride and excitement in releasing the film, only to encounter sexually explicit messages both directed toward her and made about her.

”I excitedly opened my first fan mail to read a rape fantasy that a man had written me,” she recalled. “A countdown was started on my local radio show to my 18th birthday, euphemistically the date that I would be legal to sleep with. Movie reviewers talked about my budding breasts in reviews.”

The experience, she said, changed the way she expressed herself publicly, in order to limit the ways she could be objectified by others.

”I understood very quickly, even as a 13-year-old, that if I were to express myself sexually, I would feel unsafe,” she said. “And that men would feel entitled to discuss and objectify my body to my great discomfort. So I quickly adjusted my behavior. I rejected any role that even had a kissing scene and talked about that choice deliberately in interviews. I emphasized how bookish I was and how serious I was. And I cultivated an elegant way of dressing. I built a reputation for basically being prudish, conservative, nerdy, serious, in an attempt to feel that my body was safe and that my voice would be listened to.”

Portman is one of several actresses to share devastating experiences of sexual harassment and abuse in the entertainment industry in recent months. At Saturday’s event, Portman wore a Time’s Up T-shirt, representing a group of advocates and entertainers aiming to end sexual misconduct and achieve gender equality in the workplace. The group is also working with a legal initiative to help those who have been subjected to gender bias, harassment, or abuse gain justice.

Portman spoke at the 2018 Women’s March in Los Angeles, one of hundreds of similar events around the world marking the one-year anniversary of the record-setting slate of marches last year under the same banner. The theme overall in 2018 was Power to the Polls, centered on voting and encouraging women to run for public office. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti estimated 500,000 people rallied there on Saturday, following months of debate and activism about sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, particularly after Harvey Weinstein and dozens of other powerful men have been accused of sexual misconduct.

In early January, actresses attended the Golden Globes in a protest wearing all black, to spur a conversation about sexual inequality in Hollywood and beyond, with some men wearing black and Time’s Up pins in solidarity. As my colleague Anna North wrote this month, “While they’re far from the first to work against harassment, the Hollywood women of Time’s Up have been granted a large platform in the wake of #MeToo, and they say they’re committed to using it not just for themselves, but on behalf of women who have gotten less attention.”